If Century has any chance of chasing down Bismarck and finishing first in the West Region boys hockey standings for a fifth straight season, the Patriots have a lot of ground to cover.
Alex Flicek helped the Patriots take the first step on Saturday, notching a natural hat trick as Century breezed past Mandan 6-1 at the VFW Sports Center.
It was a good way for Century to kick off a stretch of five region games in 11 days.
“They’re all pointers, so we needed to get off to a good start,” Century coach Troy Olson said.
Flicek ensured that, scoring the game’s first three goals, all in the first period. The junior forward’s second hat trick of the season ran his season goal total to 15.
Flicek helped Century’s first line continued its outstanding play. Keaton Leininger had a goal and three assists, while Chris Brown chipped in a goal and two assists.
“Playing with Keaton and Chris is nice,” Flicek said. “We just pass the puck well, control it down low and we get shots.”
Century pressured Mandan throughout the first period, but Sawyer Schmidt kept it at bay until the 7:40 mark, when Flicek tapped in a rebound from close range.
Flicek struck again at 11:29, slicing in to clean up after a Sam Johnson shot to make it 2-0.
Flicek completed the natural hat trick with 7.3 seconds left in the opening period, converting a feed from Leininger.
“Great start for him,” Olson said. “He found himself open in front of the net a few times.”
The Patriots padded their lead at 9:05 of the second when Cyril Nagurski cranked one by Schmidt from the left point. Later in the period Century cashed in its only power-play chance of the night. Leininger put one in from the right dot. It was his 20th goal of the season.
Brown sent the game to running time when he gave Century a six-goal lead at 10:48 of the third.
Jarad Zittleman put a stop to that when he got Mandan on the board with 3:53 remaining.
Mandan coach Matt Mullally said he was happy to see the line of Zittleman, Colyn Haugen and Jarad Walters get rewarded.
“I was proud of the way the team competed in the third period,” Mullally said. “Century is tough, because they just come at you in waves. They play with a lot of tenacity.
“... Every game, win or lose, you’ve got to take something positive out of it, and I thought we did,” he added.
After the dust settled on Saturday, the top four teams in the West Region all had two losses in conference play, but they were hardly on equal ground.
Bismarck is at 9-2, including a six-point win. Add in a loser point from its overtime loss to Century, and the Demons have 31 points.
Minot is 8-2 with 24 points. Century is 7-2, but with two of those victories coming after in OT, has just 19 points. Bottineau-Rugby is 6-2 with 18 points, with that six-point loss to Bismarck essentially giving them a third setback.
Bismarck has just four region games remaining, while Century has seven. The Patriots and Demons still meet once more.
Century has very little margin for error if it has any chance to grab the first seed in the region tournament.
“We didn’t play too well, but we got the W, and that’s all that mattered,” Flicek said.
Mandan 0 0 1 — 1
Century 3 2 1 — 6
First period: 1. C, Alex Flicek 13 (Keaton Leininger, Chris Brown), 7:40. 2. C, Flicek 14 (Sam Johnson, Cole Foss), 11:29. 3. C, Flicek 15 (Leininger, Cyril Nagurski), 16:53.
Second period: 4. C, Nagurski 4 (Foss, Jacob Huber), 9:05. 5. C, Leininger 20 (Brown), 14:46 (pp).
Third period: 6. C, Brown 7 (Leininger, Byrne Curl) 10:48. 7. M, Jarad Zittleman 3 (Colyn Haugen), 13:07.
Goalie saves: M — Sawyer Schmidt 13-15-11—39. C — Jack Abfalter 4-5-3—12.
Penalties: M 1 minor, 1 10-minute misconduct (checking from behind). C 2 minors.
Records: M 3-7 West Region, 3-11 overall; C 7-2, 11-2.